Almost three months ago, I had elective surgery on a pea-sized inguinal hernia. When I went to learn about inguinal hernias in women several months ago, my search results came up pretty slim. You see, a female inguinal hernia is quite rare, with only about a 3% lifetime risk. Males, on the other hand, have a 27% lifetime risk of developing one.
Unfortunately, a hernia does not tend to get better on its own, but instead, it usually gets bigger as time goes on. Men with smaller hernias can typically practice watchful waiting, with surgery not always being immediately necessary. Women, on the other hand, are typically encouraged to repair their hernia in a timely manner (I’m guessing this is due to childbearing, which is why I had mine so promptly repaired).
What is a hernia?
While hernias come in all shapes, sizes, and locations on the body, in simple terms, a hernia is a tear or weakness in the abdominal wall muscles that allows a small amount of fat (or in some cases part of an organ – like your intestines) to protrude through the cavity which typically keeps it contained. This can be a huge health risk, as it runs the risk of strangulating the protruding organ as a hernia grows.
While inguinal hernias are by far the most common type of hernia, accounting for approximately 71-73% of all hernias, there are also many other types of hernias depending on where they occur:
- inguinal (most common hernia, lower abdominal/groin)
- incisional (caused by an incision)
- femoral (outer groin)
- umbilical (belly button)
- hiatal (upper stomach)
- others (rare)
Symptoms of an inguinal hernia
Inguinal hernias can often be self-diagnosed. While they are often symptomless, with just the tiniest bulge in the inguinal area of the groin, more common symptoms can include:
- pain or swelling in the groin area
- a bulge that is reducible, or goes away when you lie down on your back
- the size of the lump or bulge increases when standing or when pressure is placed on it, like while laughing, coughing, and vomiting
Causes of an inguinal hernia
There are many possible causes of an inguinal hernia, and it’s not always an actual tear in your muscle. Sometimes it’s an area where the muscle has grown weak and thin from wear and tear, allowing a bulge to form. Risks factors for inguinal hernias are: lifting heavy things, bowel or bladder issues resulting in more pressure placed on the groin (ie. straining, bladder retention), or it can be congenital and stem from a natural weakness in the internal inguinal ring that’s been present since birth.
Inguinal hernia surgery options
It’s estimated that about 750,000 inguinal hernias are surgically repaired each year in the United States. Up until about 1980 when surgical mesh was introduced, most hernias were repaired using a pure tissue repair or tension technique which included pushing the fat or budging organ back in place and just stitching the muscle defect together using one of many stitching techniques. The cons of this old school technique are that the recovery is long and painful (4-8 weeks) and the reoccurrence rate is said to be slightly higher.
Nowadays, surgical mesh is used most of the time to reduce the reoccurrence rate and shorten the recovery time, but it is not without some risk and controversy. Here are some of the most common inguinal hernia repair options:
- Laparoscopic repair using surgical mesh (most popular)
- Open repair using surgical mesh (popular)
- Open “stitch” or pure tissue repair (more rare, usually can be done upon request from older surgeons who were trained in the technique prior to the introduction of mesh, depending on hernia size)
- The Desarda method – a pure tissue open repair (only offered by a few specialized surgeons)
Ideally, I wanted to repair my inguinal hernia using a non-mesh repair because it was so small and I was not interested in placing synthetic mesh in my body. This left me with two choices, traveling to find a surgeon who specializes in the Desarda technique or finding someone locally to perform the stitch method. Ultimately, I decided I did not want to travel for surgery. Instead, after interviewing several surgeons, I found someone locally in Seattle that said he could easily do a non-mesh open stitch repair because my hernia was so small.
Recovering from an inguinal hernia repair is going to vastly depend on the surgical method that was used to fix your hernia defect. For instance, a laparoscopic repair allows a much speedier recovery versus open repairs. Regardless of the repair method, do not rush yourself back to work and normal activities! Take it easy, and allow yourself time to rest and heal.
Here are a few things that surprised me about the recovery process:
- Because my hernia repair was an open repair of my lower abdominal muscles, I was not prepared for how painful things like laughing, coughing, sneezing, or vomiting (anesthesia can cause this) would be! I suggest staying away from anyone too funny for the first 5-10 days of your recovery. Trust me, it really hurts to laugh. Always have a pillow on hand to brace the area if you have to. You’ll never fully understand how hard you work these muscles until you have a surgery like this!
- As prepared as I was for surgery, I was not prepared for the post-surgical fatigue that lasted for nearly 6 weeks. While I expected to rest a lot during the first 10-14 days, I continued to need about a 2-hour nap every day for the following 4-weeks or so. I was kind and listened to my body.
Here are a few tools I found helpful during my recovery:
- CBD pills: If marijuana is legal in your state (it is in Washington where I live), you can look into cannabidiol (CBD) pills. CBD pills are low in THC – the component of marijuana that gets you high, but high in the component that is said to have therapeutic value fighting pain. By using CBC pills, I could take less narcotic painkillers and avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol) that is well-known to be highly toxic to your liver.
- Magnesium citrate: this is for helping you “go,” and not for reversing a magnesium deficiency. The pharmaceutical pain killers and anesthesia that go along with surgery can cause constipation, which is the exact opposite of what you want when you have lower abdominal surgery (hint: you won’t want to use those muscles at all for a few weeks). I took one capsule of magnesium citrate per every pain pill I took.
- Glycerin suppositories: talk to your doctor about having a laxative such as glycerin suppositories on hand in case you need it (see above for reasoning).
- Food sourced vitamin C: Vitamin C supports wound healing. I prefer a vitamin C supplement comes from real food. This or this are good options to consider.
- Arnica: Arnica is a very common homeopathic remedy that claims to help with wound and injury healing. You can find it here.
- Turmeric (after surgery only): Turmeric is for after surgery and not before. This is an important detail since turmeric can thin the blood, and that is not something you want going into surgery! I don’t buy these because I don’t like the additives, so instead, I make my own by purchasing well-sourced organic turmeric and put it into empty gelatin capsules.
- Liver or liver pills: Because liver is packed with healing nutrients like iron and zinc, I upped my daily liver intake slightly in the weeks prior to surgery.
I hope this information is helpful to other females out there who have a run-in with an inguinal hernia. It’s been over 12 weeks now, and I’m finally feeling like myself again.
Please note: this is not medical advice, just my own personal experience. Please talk to your doctor accordingly to find the best course of action for you and your specific situation.
Have you or someone you know had inguinal hernia surgery? Please share in the comments!
 JRSM Short Rep. 2011 Jan; 2(1): 5.Published online 2011 Jan 19. doi: 10.1258/shorts.2010.010071. PMCID: PMC3031184
Frequency of abdominal wall hernias: is classical teaching out of date? Natalie Dabbas,1 K Adams,2 K Pearson,3 and GT Royle3
Photo Credits: Depositphotos.com
By BruceBlaus. Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762.
By BruceBlaus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons